Effective communication plays a major role in the psychological adjustment and quality of the relationship of couples coping with cancer, yet only a few communicative behaviors have been examined in the context of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. This study sought to expand the extant literature by describing a wider range of communicative behaviors (beyond the frequently researched withdraw, disclosure/holding back, and avoidance behaviors) through an observable measure, as previous research has relied heavily on self-report. Couples (134 cancer patients and their caregiving partners) were video-taped discussing a cancer-related concern in the laboratory. Discussions were coded separately for patients and caregivers using the Asymmetrical Behavioral Coding System which captures 22 communicative behaviors. These behaviors contribute to four higher-level scales: positive approach, negative approach, positive avoidance, and negative avoidance. Area under the curve was calculated to describe each factor. The most frequently observed behavior was positive approach, followed by negative avoidance, negative approach, and positive avoidance.
Paired samples t-test analyses examining the factors by moderating variables revealed that women engaged in more positive approach behaviors than did men; men engaged in more avoidant behaviors (both positive and negative) than did women; and caregivers engaged in more avoidant behaviors (both positive and negative) than did patients.
Findings are consistent with prior research in the field and suggest consideration of tailoring possible future interventions. Further investigation is needed to assess possible interactional effects to ultimately help couples better communicate about the challenges associated with cancer treatment and recovery.